Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

It was 70 years ago this month. New York schools always seemed to take a summer recess later than many others and so it was in our two-room school. The picture reflects our three person eighth grade 1941 graduating class.

Marilyn Williams, on the right, was our class valedictorian. The scrawny kid on the left, with an ill-fitting outfit, was the salutatorian. Virginia Race filled out the trio. Marilyn went on to marry a local boy (one I considered as one of the 'good guys' in town) and she became the hostess of the Spencertown Academy once the school closed down. Virginia married one of my best friends and continued to live in our small village.

The picture brings back a lot of memories of two room school life. Walking a mile each way in every kind of weather. Living with respect, if not fear, of Mr. Crounce's alleged rubber hose in the top left-hand drawer of his desk. The excitement of moving back a row every year - assuming, of course, that we were eligible to be promoted. Memories of his and her outhouses out behind the school. And memories of picnics down at the creek behind the IGA store, and once-in-a-while trips to the State museum in Albany.

Who would have known what it would be like to move in the fall to a 'big' school seven miles away where we would change rooms every forty-five minutes or so. At least for me, the change to high school was challenging and having to get used to a number of teachers was not easy. Making matters worse was taking a month off from school in December to visit grandparents in California where we experienced West Coast panic when Pearl Harbor was bombed. When I got back from the trip I was hopelessly behind in Algebra which involved a couple more years before I could pass the elementary level. My majors in high school were fun and games and it is amazing I made it to graduation. I did much better in college during much more mature years.

At the time the picture was taken, who would have ventured a guess as to what life experiences were ahead? I suppose that we really had a hard time seeing beyond 'tomorrow'. I guess memories are great - but I still enjoy wondering what tomorrow holds. Just like it was in June of 1941.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Heights of Derringdo

The picture reminds me of a mountain in Glacier Bay, Alaska. However, it is somewhat closer to home. At least the home country I grew up in as a teenager. Anybody recognize where it is? And the name of the mountain?

It's Storm King Mountain, looming above the Hudson River in New York State, about half way between the US Military Academy at West Point and Newburgh.

If you look closely at the base of the mountain you'll see the roadbed of the old WestShore Railroad, and at a higher level, Highway 218 climbing along the side of the mountain. When we were living at West Point in the early 1940's we would ride a rickety 1930's bus over the mountain and it was always a scary experience with sheer drop-off's alongside the narrow road.

Even more thrilling was a camping experience some of us boys had in 1943. Several of us decided to camp out along the river - no adults allowed. Early the morning after the sleep out we decided we would climb Storm King from the river to the road at one of its higher points. For a moment go back to the picture - take a close look at the picture. See if you can find a way upto the road. Frankly, I can't see how we did it. We had no mountaineering equipment. Wait a minute - yes, we did. We had a few lengths of clothesline - and that was all. At first it seemed fairly easy. However, the higher we went the rougher the climb became. We began to use the clothesline. We dug our tennis shoes into small cracks in the granite. And we made the mistake of looking down. Not good - several of us got a bit dizzy and began to wonder if we should go back down. It looked worse down than it did up.

Needless to say, we became survivers of sorts. After we surmounted the wall along the road we faced oncoming traffic from both ways on a narrow road where we would not have picked up a hitchhike ride even if we had tried. By the time we got to the lowest level of the road we quickly retreated into the forest close by the railroad tracks and patted ourselves on the back for accomplishing a seemingly impossible mountain climb.

At the same time, we agreed that none of use would tell our parents what we had done, and agreed, without any question, that we would not do something like that again. And, as the title suggests, it was a ridiculous moment of derring do by a few teenagers who had more daring than common sense. And survived.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Busy Hands

What? Where? Who? Why? When?

That was the first lesson I learned about newspaper reporting. It also can be applied to writing a radio or TV commercial. I know from experience because it was my introduction to working continuity in the first radio station I ever worked at.

On my job interview these words were my guide to writing my first commercial. What? saving money. Where? Berkshire County Savings Bank. Who? The friendly staff of the biggest bank in town, Why? Someday you'll have a real nest egg. When? Start saving today. A similar thing happened at one of my announcer interviews -ad lib (talk off the cuff) for five minutes about a spot on the ceiling of the studio. This was more valuable than you might realize when I was doing a newscast and a friend (?) set fire to my script half way through the program and I had to ad lib my way out of the newscast.

So, what about the picture above? It was a picture of several young women. Where? In a Cairo, Egypt mosque. Who? The carpet repair crew. Why? The prayer carpet in the mosque was getting frayed. When? Probably in January of 1988.

Notice that there are smiles. They don't appear to dislike their job. They probably are highly skilled at what they do. It looks like it might be a menial job by our standards but they are earning a living rather than drawing welfare. I don't know if Egypt had (or has) a welfare system but to me it seems evident that the ladies enjoy the opportunity to do something constructive. I like to think of this as busy fingers at work and that is good. But would people of our society be happy with work like this? Possibly not if it paid minimum wage. In the end the real story is (1) that the Egyptian women are working busily and (2) they seem happy to be doing whaat they are doing.

Is there a lesson in a picture of busy hands?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's Watermelon Time

I love watermelon. I always have. From the time I was a little boy I've loved to smear my face in it especially when I had been working in the hayfields when the weather was hottest. That's not to say I don't like cantaloupe or honeydew melons - It's just that I grew up with watermelon and besides, I get bigger servings with watermelon.

Besides, there are relatively new reports out telling us that it is a healthy fruit - that it has some sort of disease-fighting compound in it that makes it not only good to eat but healthy as well.

Let me tell a true story about a watermelon.

I was working for an NBC radio station back a few decades. I had the morning shift, putting the station on the air at five a.m. with three hours of country music.

The name of the show was "Sunrise Jamboree" and it was a lot of fun for me getting to play records by the top country music stars of the time. I talked about "ole Jim down at the three flagpoles" (literally translated to engineer Jim at the remote transmitting facility several miles west of town - which had three tall transmitter towers behind the building. As a matter of dubious interest, those three towers were still there fifty years later.

Anyway, I also invited people to stop by the say hello, or to phone in requests.

Needless to say, this was well before the days of automation, or top forty programming. One morning an ultra-fundamentalist preacher who recorded his Sunday program at our station stopped by one June morning just to say 'howdy'. We chit-chatted a bit and suddenly he said he would be back in a minute - he had a gift for me in his car. A little later he returning struggling under the weight of the biggest watermelon I have ever see. IT WAS HUMONGOUS! He set it on a big table outside the control room and as we talked (on the air, no less) I asked him where he had gotten it. He replied that he had been to a big religious camp meeting up north in Georgia. On the way back, at dusk, he saw a big watermelon patch alongside the road and as he put it, "Ole Satan just got a holt of me and I couldn't resist the temptation of grabbing one (was it really only one?) to bring home. And so this ultra-fundamentalist preacher shared a pilfered watermelon with me. Maybe it took a little of the guilt away from him, but I invited all my local listeners to stop by for a bit of watermelon on the way to work. (I'd like to think it took a bit of the burden of being an accessory to the crime off of me.)

At any rate, it was a wonderful watermelon and a good time was had by all since it only lasted half an hour or less - our parking lot filled to overflowing in no time.

Yes, indeed - I DO love watermelon. How about you?